Sunday, 31 August 2014
Saturday, 30 August 2014
Friday, 29 August 2014
Thursday, 28 August 2014
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Monday, 25 August 2014
Sunday, 24 August 2014
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Friday, 22 August 2014
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
As we moved through countries I gradually realised we'd moved into Germany and the first thing that struck me was the increase in graffiti. I think this surprised me because perhaps I imagine graffiti to be the preserve of a disaffected youth. Germany's PR machine has been persuading me that they're doing alright Jack (or whatever the German equivalent of Jack is). I might expect it in Spain where youth unemployment, or unemployment generally is shockingly high, but not in Germany.
We went through Cologne and along the Rhine. I saw vineyards planted on infeasibly steep slopes and then I started to feel hungry, and thirsty.
The nice attendant paid us a visit. We'd splashed out for a meal in the restaurant car and the reviews I'd read said that it was worth the expense. The advice was to book the early sitting at 6:00 pm to be sat eating dinner alongside the Rhine. Our attendant wanted to know if we wanted wine with our meal and recommended we find her at dinnertime to lock our cabin while we dined.
We'd had a sneak peek at the restaurant car earlier and it was a bit posh. It wasn't very posh but it didn't seem to be a shorts and a t-shirt environment. Dave and I changed into something more suitable but our children were immovable objects and turned up wearing their usual scruffy attire.
Dinner was good, the view was excellent, but there was a problem. I felt perhaps there wasn't enough dinner. If I added the calorific content then it was probably sufficient but I really was quite hungry. Luckily I had some emergency shortbread back in the cabin to tide us over.
After dinner it was back to the cabin for some post dinner entertainment. This comprised of Hannah teaching Ethan how to play Cheat and Dave and me teaching the children how to play Whist. The remaining bunks were assembled and we prepared for sleep.
There were blankets in the cabin and each bunk had a freshly laundered sheet fashioned into a sleep sheet rather like a sleeping bag liner. There were also pillows with freshly laundered pillow cases. There was a slight problem with the sleeping arrangements. One could argue whether this was a fault of Autoslaap or of us but Dave was too tall to fit in a bunk properly. Given that he regularly suffers with a bad back this was not ideal but he did his best not to make a fuss.
Monday, 18 August 2014
The intent behind this blog post is to inform. I'm imagining a reader who's conteplating this journey and wondering whether it would suit them. Also this post will be split into several parts, partly because it makes it more digestible for the reader.
Firstly, it was our choice to take the ferry to the Netherlands. I think that if you were to look at elapsed time driving and Eurotunnel would be quicker.
Whilst the ferry journey itself was excellent, getting off the ferry and through passport control wasn't great and probably took an hour.
Driving to 's-Hertogenbosch (also known as Den Bosch) was easy and took just over an hour. Finding the right turning for the Autoslaap (Motorail) wasn't quite as easy. It's clearly a niche service and, as such, had discrete signage. However, a couple of wrong turns and a lot of finger crossing seemed to work.
You need to remember that this isn't a big ferry port or airport used by thousands daily but is a small service used by a very small number of customers. Have faith and look for the tiny signs for Autoslaap. When these signs stop and you think "It can't be through there" it is.
We thought we were early but actually we almost the last to check-in. Bizarrely we were required to drive along the same platform used by passengers. All but the driver exited the car and took the luggage we'd need for an overnight stay on the train. Dave, our driver, then carefully drove the car onto the carriages designed to take cars on two decks. We were told to disable the alarm to prevent any embarrassing flat battery incidents.
We had time to kill before boarding and ate some amazing sandwiches we'd bought at motorway services just before the Den Bosch exit.
The station waiting area was unprepossessing but we weren't there long before required to board.
The train wasn't up to Richard Branson's standards and I think a fair description would be "ageing rolling stock". Everything was just a little bit worn but perfectly serviceable.
We left on time, and before long our attendant arrived with a choice of welcome drink: Lambrusco or orange juice (with bits, as the kids would say).
The train carriages were divided with a corridor along one side with cabins on the other. Our cabin had five chairs that could be transformed into four bunks.
We think there was a fifth bunk for someone short but it didn't have a mattress so we used it for luggage storage.
We started in seat mode but it didn't take long for the children's excitement to require that half of our cabin be turned into bunks.
We sat and watched the countryside roll past the window and then when the children bored of that they stuck their heads in books.
It's quite relaxing to sit and watch the countryside and towns and cities go past the window, and that's how I spent the few hours before dinner.
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Saturday, 16 August 2014
There were no queues in front of us at document check out boarding. We just drove straight on and started exploring straight away.
The ferry seemed very new and lacked the knocked about look that years of exposure to the public can create.
Our cabin exceeded expectations with five berths, a TV, and crisp, clean, white linen all ready to use.
We dumped our bags and explored the rest of the ship. Everything was very efficient and organised.
We noted our rather early (5:30am) alarm call and headed back to the cabin.
Sleep was interrupted by children sleep-talking, Hannah kicking first a book and then a towel from her bed to mine, narrowly missing my head, and Ethan choosing to lose a book with a great thud when it hit the floor.
Stena, it seems have a sense of humour. At 6:30 CET we were all woken to the tune "Don't worry, be happy."
Nice one Stena.
Friday, 15 August 2014
We needed a guide book and a map.
I spoke to Dave about which ones I thought would be a good idea, told him I'd placed an order and showed him the products when they arrived.
Yesterday he went into town and bought a guide book and map.
Apparently he was completely unaware I'd done anything.
The phrase "You never listen to a word I say" seemed appropriate.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Today we start our epic adventure.
It's sort of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure but with a boat and without the planes.
I'm apprehensive. Do you get nervous before a holiday?
Have we got all of the tickets and documentation?
There is one thing that could go wrong. Dave's car has a chip in the windscreen. If it were my car it would have been sorted within the week but Dave's been driving around with this for months, and I only found out a few days ago.
Calling Autoglass in the UK is nice and easy and simple. Fixing a windscreen in Italy when the train journey has rattled the windscreen into smithereens, will not be as simple. Dave says it will be fine. I am not as confident.
I could have insisted he fix it or I could have said "If he thinks it'll be OK, then I'll trust him." It was tough call but I'm going with trust.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Robin Williams was reported to have been found dead today.
It's thought he died by suicide.
He was known to be suffering from depression.
The news has been full of how great Robin Williams was with tributes flooding in from the great and the good, and David Hasselhoff.
The Samaritans have advice for the media on the reporting of suicide; I'm not sure all media outlets followed that advice today.
But the news coverage has allowed some discussion about depression.
The thing that, for me, makes today sad, is that a man died because he felt he wasn't good enough, and that is very, very sad.
Monday, 11 August 2014
The All Party Group on Alcohol Misuse want us to stop drinking as much as we do.
I think that's OK as a goal, but let's look at how they want to do this.
A phased ban on alcohol sponsorship - Well this worked for cigarettes, so introducing it on alcohol seems reasonable.
An increase in funding for treatment and access levels for problem drinkers - Helping people who are addicted has to be a good thing and the Government has invested millions in strategies to help those addicted to nicotine.
Make the training of parental substance abuse mandatory for all social workers and healthcare professionals - I'm surprised it isn't already.
Launching national public awareness and behaviour change campaigns - These are likely to be the type of thing we've seen on cigarette packaging and the national anti-smoking advertising. The only issue I have with this is that I like the look of many alcohol products. I think that bottles and their labels are an art form but don't think this is a good enough reason to prevent this proposal from being adopted.
The introduction of minimum unit pricing - Increasing the price of alcohol will reduce demand but I'm not sure that a minimum unit price is the answer. I don't see why consumers should line the pockets of retailers. I'd much rather see any increase in revenue given to the taxman. This means I think we should have a tax for every unit of alcohol. I think this should work, and perhaps increase the coffers of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.
If you also think this is a good idea, have a think about how much the tax per unit of alcohol should be. I have an idea, do you?
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Saturday, 9 August 2014
Friday, 8 August 2014
Thursday, 7 August 2014
Wednesday, 6 August 2014
I was going to blog about something entirely different today but Victoria has prompted me to share some of the wisdom I gleaned from my mum.
I used to work in the same office as my mum. We worked at Pollards when I was 16, in the general office.
This would have to be the dream job for any 16 year old because do you know what Pollards made? Sweets, and lots of them.
They also distributed Kelly's ice cream and they may have made it, I'm not sure, and they also distributed loads of crappy ready meals like Findus lasagne to hotels in the grockle heaven that is the West Country. I remember they sold faggots, and I had absolutely no idea what they were, but they didn't sound appetising.
Well I don't recall seeing many of the sweets, or the ice cream, and definitely none of the crappy ready meals.
Working in the general office, my days were filled with envelope stuffing and moving bits of paper around. I might have done some adding up as well but it was a very dull job.
As with many of the jobs I've done it hasn't been the job content that's kept me going back, it's been the money and/or the people, and in this case it was the money and the people.
It was an office full of women who called one another by their first names with an office manager who was "Mr Hellier". It never occurred to me at the time that this was a very unequal working environment. I just did my work and didn't ask questions.
Working alongside mum was great because she gave me some sound advice which I've continued to use throughout my working life.
The first piece of advice I remember is "If you walk quickly holding a clipboard and a pen people will assume you're busy." These days you would probably look a bit suspicious with a clipboard but handful of documents or laptop would be a good substitute.
The next advice is "Make sure you wee on company time." This is the most pragmatic piece of business advice I have ever received. It makes sense on every level.
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Some time last year, James went out of his way to recommend something that would change my life.
This type of thing happens rarely in the office so I paid attention.
How often does a man recommend something to make housework easier? Well if it had ever happened before then I could count the times but it's difficult to count nothing.
James was really enthusiastic so I listened attentively.
A task that was always difficult made an absolute breeze by the acquisition and use of a tiny little gadget.
Well it's not so tiny, but James persuaded me that I needed this must-have gadget. It wasn't a difficult sell. I'm a sucker for a gadget, especially one with blinding Amazon reviews.
I splashed some cash. Well actually I splashed some Tesco Clubcard vouchers and within a matter of days I was in the possession of a Karcher window vac.
A what? A window vac? Yes, a window vac.
It's like a squeegee but electric and sucks the the water into a reservoir. It eliminates streaks and doesn't leave a puddle of cleaning liquid at the squeegee's finish point.
I understood James's evangelism and I started my own Karcher window vac ministry.
I have now had multiple conversations with friends and colleagues spreading the word about the window vac. The genius of this bit of kit is that I've hardly used it on windows but it comes into its own on worktops and glass tables as well as cars (windows and bodywork).
Buy one, you won't regret it.
Monday, 4 August 2014
Hannah enjoyed a day at Alton Towers as part of scout camp.
She has been telling Ethan about it and they now want a trip to Alton Towers.
I could put up with the nagging or I could use it to my advantage. Mwah hah hah - evil mum.
Dave will be the difficult one to persuade so I have set them a challenge.
They need to research the park, potential accommodation, transport, other tourist attractions in the area and then sell the idea to their dad and me.
They started their research immediately, but still have a way to go.
Sunday, 3 August 2014
Just over a month ago I was driving my car along the High Street when the gearbox stopped working. I couldn't move the car because I couldn't get it into gear.
Luckily I was in a fairly unobtrusive part of the High Street where cars could pass me. Had it not been a Sunday and had I been 20 feet further forward and I would have been causing far more of an obstruction.
I called home for assistance and sat there waving traffic past me until a couple of gentlemen offered to help push the car back into a bus stop. I gratefully accepted their offer and was then in a much better place to wait for help.
Yesterday I saw a car near the High Street with its hazard lights on. It was stationary and from its road position I guessed the driver hadn't intended to stop there.
I offered the driver help after discovering that she too had clutch problems: could I push the car for her while she steered? I was looked up and down, thanked for my offer but told I couldn't possibly push the car on my own. The driver was clearly agitated as she'd been on the receiving end of the frustration vented by passing drivers.
I explained that I might well be able to push the car on my own but also, if I stopped to push the car then others would stop and offer help too. She looked doubtful but thought it was worth giving it a go.
Well I did move the car but also, my prediction was correct. As soon as I had the car rolling someone else stopped to offer a hand.
Between us we moved the car to safety just before her husband turned up to provide further help. She was very thankful, wanted to know my name and held my hand, calling me an angel.
I know that I would have offered help even if I hadn't needed it previously, but it felt good to lend a hand. I was putting something into the Bank of Assistance having made a withdrawal not too long ago. What goes around...
Saturday, 2 August 2014
At what age should shorts disappear from a woman's wardrobe? Let's start by agreeing that anything calf length isn't a pair of shorts. Shorts, in my opinion, should finish above the knee.
Are shorts always OK?
Does the suitability of wearing shorts depend on the state of the derriere and the legs that they will cover?
I like wearing shorts. I have about ten pairs and I don't want to think I'm getting to the age where they are deemed to be inappropriate attire.
So can I wear shorts forever, or will there come a time when I decide it's just not appropriate anymore?
Hannah has started to tell me that some of my shorts are unacceptable, on me.
As one ages do shorts gradually increase in length?
I didn't realise that Jenny Joseph's poem Warning was the UK's favourite post war poem. I think it could be improved if it mentioned shorts.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
This isn't a review of the country ahead of a Scottish Independence vote, but a review of Billie Piper in Great Britain, a satirical view of phone hacking with a smattering of MPs' expenses scandal for good measure.
I would recommend this show, but not, perhaps, for the reasons you might suspect. It's very funny and laughter is good for you, so go see it as medicine for the soul.
It took me a little while to relax into watching the action because Piper was too stiff and posh when compared with my expectations. I wasn't expecting her to burst onto the stage as Rose Tyler but I didn't expect a tabloid editor to adopt a false, posh accent akin to something one might feel necessary when receiving a telephone call from the Queen. She also had a rather aloof air which didn't fit with my expectations of someone chasing sleazy, grubby stories about celebrity D-listers.
This could be the script so perhaps I should be laying the blame at the playwright Richard Bean. Although Bean does deserve praise for the non stop humour.
The characters in the show are an amalgam of those that were a part of the real scandal.
Piper plays Paige Britain who I think is perhaps a female Piers Morgan, especially as, in the play, she ends up with a chat show in the States.
Rebekah Brooks makes an uncanny appearance with a doppelgänger in all but hair colour. The stage Rebekah Brooks knows nothing of the hacking and is portrayed as an innocent campaigner who has more of a "helicopter view" of operations rather than an in-depth understanding. She also loves horses...
Robert Glenister plays the ousted editor brilliantly. He adopts a Kelvin Mackenzie character and much of the humour comes from him. His language is at sewer level and he is responsible for many of the more ludicrous headlines we see on the front page of The Free Press.
Aaron Neil plays the hilariously deadpan ineptitude of police commissioner Sully Kassam. He was one of the stars of the show with excellent comic timing and delivery.
There is a Murdoch figure with senile tendencies and an obvious ruthless streak.
There is a Prime Minister who represents the worst of Blair and Cameron, who beds Paige and will sacrifice all principles to acquire more power.
A female Andy Coulson appears, leaving the paper to take up a role in Downing Street. This character is the type of person that one hates on sight, so, very well written and cast.
It's true enough to life to be credible, but the life portrayed is so base and despicable that there is little shock achieved because we've all seen and read about it.
The set is clever and versatile with large glass walls that serve as screens for displaying headlines from the Guardener "We think so you don't have to", The Dependent and of course, the star publication "The Free Press". So while we're seeing "Crisis in Middle East" from the Guardener, we're also seeing "Immigrants eat swans" from The Free Press.
We also see BBS TV reports that bear a remarkable visual similarity to those of the BBC. The use of video extends to some excellent YouTube spoofs of Sully Kassam's news conferences reminiscent of Nick Clegg's smash hit "I'm Sorry"; and "live" coverage of the Commons Select Committee in which, when challenged about spending £200K with a spying agency, Piper responds by asking the female chair whether the cost of a bikini wax that left a "heart-shaped landing strip" should have been claimed on MP's expenses. Cue embarrassment and a Free Press headline "Tax on Wax" or was it "Wax on Tax"? I forget.
The show contains the kind of language one might expect from a newspaper office. In the first scene one character has the word "C*NT" on his forehead. He's asked why and replies nonchalantly that he's "C*nt of the week."
It's currently showing at the National Theatre, tickets from £15 apparently.
Friday, 1 August 2014
I say popular request but I actually mean Vic has been nagging me to blog again.
And other than Vic, I don't have a fan.
The weather's been hot and humid and this is the time of year my thoughts turn to spending money to make nights, particularly, a little cooler.
When we lived in the States we were the only people we knew in the neighbourhood who didn't have aircon. We lived in a house that the Addams family would have been proud to occupy but it was the skankiest house in a very expensive neighbourhood, hence the lack of aircon. So we had fans, or at least one fan. We even brought the fan back to UK and hung onto it for years until the realisation of the voltage difference and an over-crowded loft, forced us to ditch it.
And every year, in the UK, I wonder about buying a fan, or three. In a normal British summer I'd be using it for about three days but for the rest of the year it would live in the loft. This means that even when it gets hot I won't be bothered with retrieving the fan(s) from the loft.
So is it worth it? Should I spend my money?
And if I do spend my money do I go cheap and cheerful and buy a £20 plastic fan or do I spend £50 at least on a quality metal fan (that I'll hardly use ever)?
I think I might have made my mind up.